Engaging lunchtime concert by woodwind students

Woodwind students of the New Zealand School of Music

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday 23 July, 12:15 pm

Five students under head of winds Deborah Rawson at the school of music gave a delightful recital on a cold day which saw a slightly smaller audience than usual at St Andrew’s.

As usual the standard of the performances was remarkable, resulting in several revelations of unfamiliar music. The first was a movement from Saint-Saëns’s clarinet sonata, one of his last pieces, written in the year of his death. Hannah Sellars played its second movement, Allegro animato, not without slight blemishes but with interesting variety of tone and an easy fluency in the runs and other decorative elements.

A second clarinettist was Patrick Richardson, rather more confident both in his presentation and his execution; he played two pieces, the first a successful arrangement of Debussy’s La fille aux cheveux de lin, and then the Allegro from Stamitz’s 2nd clarinet concerto (while the programme had J (for Johann) Stamitz as composer, Richardson said correctly that it was by Carl, Johann’s son; Johann wrote only one clarinet concerto). The Debussy was limpid and fluid, every note entranced by the girl’s beguiling hair, the piano part only slightly diminished in its importance; the concerto movement by the son of the genius of the Mannheim school which so influenced Mozart, was a happy experience, chosen no doubt to exemplify the stylistic contrast between the classical clarinet and the late romantic. The clarity of tone, the player’s firm confidence carried him through the decorative phrases and cadenzas, with striking support by pianist Rafaela Garlick-Grice.

Harim Oh was a third clarinettist; he chose a piece that represented a very different challenge: the first movement, Lento, poco rubato, from the solo clarinet sonata by avant-garde Soviet composer Edison Denisov, born in 1929 and died in 1996. Littered with tricky pitches, micro-tones, note bending and smudged trills, this was a fine performance of a famously seminal piece, defying Soviet orthodoxy.

Two other instruments featured: Annabel Lovatt’s oboe and Peter Lamb’s bassoon. Annabel’s presentation was slightly hindered by nervousness compounded by a non-functioning microphone; however I did hear her say that the CPE Bach piece for solo oboe was originally for flute – no doubt for his patron the flute-playing Prussian king Frederick. One of the really significant revelations of recent decades has been the discovery of Bach’s oldest son’s genius, replacing the earlier view of him as a merely talented odd-ball. This piece made its way through an Adagio with an intriguing, twisting melody, short varied pauses and odd tempo changes; then the Allegro, a show-piece that was just as inventive and entertaining, punctuated by unexpected pauses, which Annabel played with considerable accomplishment. It may well have been more difficult on the oboe than on the flute.

Peter Lamb played a short suite for bassoon and piano by Alexander Tansman, who came alive for me when I visited the city museum in Lodz some years ago to find it largely dominated by Arthur Rubinstein and Tansman, both born there – Tansman 1897–1986. Since then, Tansman’s music seems to have emerged interestingly. This suite explored the instrument’s great and highly contrasted range in sunny melodies that engaged the piano (always played so splendidly by Garlick-Grice) in a real partnership. There seemed to be four movements, varied in a neo-classical manner. Not only does his music avoid modernist tendencies (in Paris in the 1920s, he declined an invitation to associate with Les Six) and certainly the serialists, but there is little to suggest any kinship with his compatriot Szymanowski, 15 years his senior. So this was an engaging, and interesting work that the two played with affection and commitment. It’s time for more serious exploration (by RNZ Concert?) of Tansman’s impressive oeuvre.

Comments later confirmed my impression of a particularly engaging concert.

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